We’re back with the Nintendo Switch in the search for a perfect family game. This time around, we get to take on space-faring monkeys’ role with a passion for building things. Sound sensible? No, it sounds positively, Bonkies!
Introducing the Monkeys
Bonkies is a little too complicated for the smaller children in the family, so we end up with a core player team of myself (Dad), my wife (Mum), and the two teenage girls (Alicia and Taeha). Everyone’s happy to take a good stab at being a co-operative monkey, though from the outset, it looks like it’s going to be trouble.
“Which monkey is me?” — everyone.
“I think I’m blue.”
“I thought I was blue, oh no, I’m green.”
A little while later and everyone’s got to grips with it all. Pick a monkey, give it a three-letter moniker, and jump right in.
“OK, so what do we are we doing, then?”
Monkeys wot build
Bonkies is a co-operative building game. Each level starts with a few blocks and a shape outline that you have to fill. So far, so simple. The problems come when it becomes obvious that some of the blocks need two monkeys to lift, while other parts need to be held to keep the construction steady as pieces are lowered.
It’s surprising how little space a large television holds for four jet-pack-owning critters. Family members crash into each other with astounding regularity. The game thinks this is all on purpose and rewards us with little high-five messages.
On the sofa, things are less cordial.
“Will you get out my way, Dad? I’m trying to move this!”
“Yeah, God, Dad, stop crashing into us.”
Thankfully, we’re all supplied with enormous magnetic robot arms to help us move the blocks. Less thankfully, these can also lock onto each other.
“Dad! Let me go.”
“She’s right honey, seriously. Get out of the way.”
Co-operating, the core of a peaceful Bonkies family life
Once the controls are understood (it takes a little while) and everyone is good with finding their own personal space (takes a little longer again), playing Bonkies becomes a little less argument and a little more well-oiled machine. Eventually, Alicia and I are a good little team picking up bits, and the other two are getting points for general organisation and holding it all together. I think it’s called man-management.
Bonkies does a great job at rewarding helpfulness. It’s utterly impossible to complete any of the later levels without listening to each other and being respectful, so a calm does descend with that in mind. Far from the aggressive one-upmanship of competitive family games, this is developed co-operation at its very best.
We’re definitely impressed. Even when it all goes wrong (and it often goes wrong), there are more smiles and apologies than accusations and retribution.
Challenging the group
The levels on Bonkies are very well developed. Concepts are introduced at a stable speed, starting with the basic block placement, growing to introduce blocks of different materials (heavy ones that need multiple people, glass ones that can split after too many drops, and more), and then offering more and more complex build designs.
There are some very innovative ideas here, especially in the stability department. On plenty of levels, one or two monkeys are needed merely to sit in the right places, nudging the structure on occasion to make sure it stays up. There’s the introduction of wheels, where balancing becomes somewhat more complex, and then scaffolding, allowing for block buildings with gaps in them. Plus, some levels can be completed in multiple ways.
Each time, you need only sustain the creation for three seconds to be awarded the level, which is a great relief, as often it comes crashing down on the fourth beat.
Holding up interest
Sadly, Bonkies couldn’t hold everyone’s interest for the entire evening. While one daughter would have kept playing until her eyes started to bleed, the other found the edge of her interest far too soon and began to plan her excuses before the end of the first world. I felt the repetition a little myself by that point, and though I was enjoying myself, I found that I was hoping for something a little more.
Eventually, four became three, and then it wasn’t long before the session ended.
That’s often how it is with these skill-testing puzzle games, though, so rather than being disappointing, Bonkies was just performing as expected.
No doubt, we’d be back for more, though.
One Bonkie (or Bonky)
What’s a co-operative puzzle game without anyone to co-operate with?
Turns out it’s just a puzzle game.
Played solo, Bonkies is still fun, and does its best to adapt to a single-player campaign, but throughout you can feel the absence of friends.
Oddly, the game offers two things: one, the option to play the co-operative mode solo, and two, the option to add friends in the single player campaign.
Both of these are lunacy in the extreme. Jumping in as a second player in the solo game creates a monkey missing his (or her) block-lifting magnetic arm, meaning you can fly around and generally get in the way but can’t help much at all. True, you can help push the odd block around and stop the occasional tower from falling, but you’re not needed, and you know it.
Attempting the co-operative levels alone is pure folly. The game warns you with a little message suggesting that a level is recommended for two or more players but doesn’t stop you from trying anyway. Still, the first time you try to lift an over-heavy stone block alone, you realise exactly what you let yourself in for. Where’s the ‘quit’ button again?
Playing the one-player campaign properly is a game, but it’s a far cry from the fun Bonkies has to offer as a piece of family entertainment and is probably for hardcore fans only (or those wishing to hone their skills to show off later).
What’s in a name, anyway?
It’s amazing that I managed to get this far through the review without mentioning the absurdity of the game’s title. It may depend a lot on your upbringing, but in our household, the word Bonkies had quite the effect.
First of all, there were the amusing comments about how it might be quite fun to play Bonkies, quickly followed by the realisation on the girls’ faces that said, “We’re going to play Bonkies with Mum and Dad” just sounded wrong. And they didn’t really want to talk about their parents playing Bonkies either.
It wouldn’t be so bad if it meant something in-game, either, but when your name is a strong innuendo nationally (if not worldwide), then you really ought to have a good reason for using it. Here, though, there’s nothing.
In fact, the closest I could fathom for the word, was that it was monkeys who occasionally bonked each other on the head (often with a heavy block). Still, it was a stretch, and still not something that should have passed any branding department.
This game should be titled “Space Monkey Builders” or something similar, and definitely not a near-overt reference to what might go on in the monkeys’ private time.
That said, it did serve to raise the general good humour of the evening, and could have helped with the overall enjoyment of the game.
If you are a family who regularly comes together to play games or the kind of player who has friends around often, then I can see Bonkies becoming a regular staple—it’s well-designed and offers some exceptionally pleasing co-operative enticement in a game.
If co-op time is limited, however, then Bonkies might not be able to rise to the top of the pack.
There are promises of greater things, including rocket blocks and blocks that explode, all hinting that the developers have made sure there’s enough in later levels to maintain interest and to increase the complexity of the structures, plus there are a heap of characters to unlock and all of that now-standard stuff. None of it seems to really impact the core game, however.
Final thoughts on Bonkies
As a co-operative family game, Bonkies has a lot going for it. It’s a shame that it’s a little too complex for younger players, but that complexity also works for it in providing a decent challenge for older kids and adults.
Where it falls down is in other aspects of game development. The setting and flavour try to be funny without ever really achieving a genuine laugh; there’s little (if anything) to differentiate between the monkeys and other helpful animals, meaning the choice of the player character is based on colour alone; the storyline is instantly forgettable; the one-player game fails to deliver; and finally, the name is just ridiculous, failing to describe anything about the game, and failing to support it later.
Bonkies is a title worth having in a collection, but the quest for the ultimate family game is still on.